The San Francisco Giants’ ‘pen is pretty good. Actually, it’s excellent.
They have the second best ERA in in the National League at 2.86 (behind the Padres at 2.85). They have the second best FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) at 3.13 (behind the Braves at 3.06). They also lead major league bullpens with a 52.6 percent ground ball rate… who knew? I guess I didn’t. That helps to explain some of their tied-for-fourth-best home runs per nine innings at 0.54. On top of that, of course, is their often-discussed ability to keep fly balls from heading into the seats more often than not — this is a trait most every pitcher for the Giants carries, whether that’s because of Dave Righetti, AT&T Park, or something else.
Here’s how they’ve done it…
Javier Lopez has a 2.09 ERA and 3.06 FIP.
Ramon Ramirez has a 2.20 ERA and 3.05 FIP
Brian Wilson has a 2.83 ERA and 3.40 FIP
Jeremy Affeldt has a 3.05 ERA and 3.63 FIP
Santiago Casilla has a 1.85 ERA and 3.64 FIP
And Guillermo Mota has a 3.99 ERA and 3.95 FIP. When your mop-up emergency guy has a FIP and ERA under four, you probably have a good bullpen. This manager does, and overall, he’s been pretty excellent at choosing the right time to go to each one of them.
Oh, and the Giants have this other guy. His name is Sergio Romo. He’ll sometimes come in if the other team has a right-handed hitter coming up in the eight inning. Sometimes (actually, half the time) he’ll strike that right-handed hitter out. He’s struck out 44 of the 88 right-handed hitters he’s faced.
Romo has an ERA of 1.85 and a FIP of 1.21; he’s struck out 12.97 batters per nine innings (K/9) while walking just 1.06 (BB/9), and he’s yielded a home run rate of 0.53 per nine innings (HR/9). He’s walked just four batters to 49 strikeouts for a ratio of 12.25 strikeouts per free pass. He’s already been worth 1.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) according to FanGraphs, which is a remarkable feat in just 34 innings. That makes him more than twice as valuable as any other reliever on the Giants. His slider, which I’ve coined “Romo’s Boomerang,” is legendary.
So if you ever find yourself wondering why the Giants have managed to win so many close games, or if you ever find yourself wondering: ‘Hey, the Giants haven’t scored that many more runs than their opponents, and gee, they’ve won a lot of games despite that.’ Well, that bullpen is as good of a reason as you’ll find. Their run differential is +19 and identical to that of the Dimaondbacks, and yet they find themselves with a four-game lead in the division.
Have the Giants identified their future closer?
If this report on the Giants’ off-limits prospects list is correct, I think the Giants might be telling us something.
If you head over to the Giants’ page on Cot’s Baseball Contracts, you can learn that Brian Wilson will be a free agent after the 2013 season. That’s exactly when it’ll be tough for Wilson to actually be worth what he’ll command in the market.
You may or may not buy this notion, but closers have historically been overvalued in baseball. Teams (like the Mets) will pay through the nose for a free agent closer (like Francisco Rodriguez), and then they’ll grow to regret the decision (and dump him for salary relief later with not much in the way of prospects coming back). The regret will often come from one of two places, or both. The pitcher will soon become less effective than his younger, cheaper (pre-free agent) self. Or the pitcher simply won’t be worth the $12-$16 million he’s being paid per season, whether or not the team actually realizes it.
It’s rare for a closer to stick around for a very long time, make a bunch of money and remain an exceptional option. But I guess Mariano Riveras don’t grow on trees.
An excellent test case for this will come at the end of 2011, when Jonathan Papelbon becomes a free agent and the Red Sox have Daniel Bard to replace him should they choose to part ways. The Red Sox are one of the smartest franchises around and I tend to think they’ll let him walk, collecting the draft pick instead when he signs elsewhere. But I guess we’ll find out this winter.
Heath Hembree was a fifth-round pick who barely pitched this spring for Coastal Carolina, then dominated the Arizona League in his brief time there, striking out 22 of 41 hitters without a walk. He hit 98 repeatedly in instructional league in September.
It’s not often that a major league franchise will put a relief prospect with the china — Do Not Touch! The fact that they’ve done so already speaks for itself. Again, if this is true, I think Brian Sabean, Dick Tidrow and Bobby Evans are telling us what they think Hembree can (and will) do on a major league mound sometime soon. Striking out 86 batters in 47.2 minor league innings will do that to a front office.
The last Giants prospect to miss that many bats in the minors was a guy by the name of Tim Lincecum. (Of course, he was a starter, making it that much more remarkable.)
Update: Just today, Keith Law provides us with additional evidence as to why giving relievers long-term deals, especially after they leave arbitration and become free agents, is asinine (ESPN Insider).
One philosophy on major league roster construction I’ve hammered throughout my time here at ESPN is the folly of spending big to acquire relief pitching, whether the currency is cash or in prospects. One GM in particular has such a habit of overpaying relievers (and such a low success rate) that it’s become something of a running joke. And this week we will likely see a handful of relievers traded for something of actual value, even though history shows us that these deals don’t often work out…
The philosophy that says not to invest heavily in relievers is about more than just avoiding overvaluing them in midyear deals, as we’ve seen plenty of absurd contracts handed out to free-agent relievers in recent years, including Lyon, Scott Linebrink, and Joaquin Benoit. (In fact, the idea for this article came from a very simple study I did in my last offseason with Toronto to show why we shouldn’t give B.J. Ryan a four-year deal. I guess it worked, as we didn’t give him four years. We gave him five.)
Here’s a perfect example in a real front-office setting where Law’s data (and advice) said not to sign Ryan, a quality closer, long term; the deal was struck by the General Manager anyway. In fact, another year was tacked on. If you know anything about this deal, you probably know that it was a disaster.